23 April 2024, 22:07
By Archibald Deymes Sept 25, 2015

A snapshot of the French furniture industry

According to the National Union of French Furniture Industries (UNIFA), France is Europe’s fourth largest furniture exporter, selling just under €2m abroad. However, the country has had a difficult time since achieving its peak turnover of €9.84m in 2011, writes business student Archibald Deymes …

Whilst the French furniture industry has endured since the onset of the global economic crisis, it has seen every sector (aside from bedding) contract.

Led by fitted kitchens, the furniture industry was a principal driver of the French industry throughout the early 2000s. The industry has since shifted in favour of value goods, granting the larger, more flexible players even greater dominance.

Despite these changes, results from the start of 2015 to date promise a positive year – the Institute for Prospective Studies and Furnishings (IPEA) recorded 3.6% growth in sales in April.

Market size

French furniture has a strong place in the European market. In 2013, it recorded a turnover of €9.14b, and employed more than 120,000. Large-scale retail accounts for 50.4% of the market, with the leading names changing little from year to year. According to retail trade magazine Libre Service Actualités, the current leaders are Ikea (17.9%), the Steinhoff-owned Conforma (15.3%), and But (11.3%).

Last year saw the demise of the struggling fourth player, Meublier Europeen, while independents at every level are increasingly losing market share.

Market growth and contraction

Sales fell by 1.5% to €9.12b by the end of 2014, according to the IPEA. That year, VAT increased from 19.6% to 20%, and the eco-contribution, a collective funding system, was introduced to offset the cost of collection and treatment of products at the end of their lifespan.

Both measures actually proved surprisingly favourable in helping increase the perceived value of goods. Without these factors, the decrease in sales might well have reached as much as 4%, according to some manufacturers and distributors. Combined with these supposed difficulties were higher taxes, a general propensity towards saving rather than spending, and the relocation of a good chunk of the workforce to Eastern Europe.

As in 2012 and 2014, bedding is the only segment that registered growth that year, but upholstery sales are growing.

The furnishing segment has fallen by 2.9% in value – lower prices have not necessarily led to sales growth. However, a few products, including storage and dressing solutions, have bucked the trend.

“The industry has since shifted in favour of value goods, granting the larger, more flexible players even greater dominance”

However, 2015 has started well. The market saw an increase of 1.5% early on, despite predictions that intent to purchase would decrease. It should be noted that this slight growth is mainly down to the poor comparatives of past years – with downturns of 0.5% in 2013, and 6.2% in 2014, there is still a long way to go.

The period from January to April 2015 saw a boost of €50m in the market – which is fairly insignificant compared to the loss of €226m over the same period in the two previous years.

Market trends

We often hear that French culture is unique. But there’s one point of difference that’s impossible to ignore – more than anywhere in Europe, the property crisis has had a direct impact on furnishing sales.

Unlike their European neighbours, who renew their furniture fairly regularly, the French tend to give in to the temptation to buy a brand new living room or kitchen only when they have to relocate, according to national newspaper Le Figaro.

A study by the National Union of French Furniture Industries, UNIFA, reveals that 82% care about their furniture, decoration and house in general chiefly because it reflects their emotions and wellbeing. Three major trends dominate: City, which appeals to around 25% of the French; the new Classic, adopted by 20%; and the Naturel Charpenté (natural wooden look), which also appeals to 20%.

“The French tend to give in to the temptation to buy a brand new living room or kitchen only when they have to relocate, according to national newspaper Le Figaro”

These statistics do not mean that the French are fixated on specific designs. Often, two or three styles run through each home, and each room boasts its own feel.

According to Gerard Laize, chief executive of the VIA, an association set up by the French Furniture Industries Development Committee (CODIFA) to promote the development of the industry, the French tend to transform some elements of their interior, whilst maintaining others – making furnishing a home a project that evolves over a lifetime.


With exports of €1.9b, France recently dropped off the bottom of the list of the world’s top 10 exporting countries, just pipped by Sweden. The global crisis has shrunk the furniture market in Europe and slowed trade in general – even Chinese exports to France suffered a decrease of 10% in 2013.

Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and England are the top three French export markets, accounting for a total of €717m in 2013 according to FIRA, which also states that French product only accounts for around 3% of the UK’s furniture imports.

Key exhibitions

One of the best ways to understand the French market and its trends is to participate in or visit an event.

Espritmeuble (5-8th December, 2015) promises more than 200 exhibitors across a display area of 30,000 sqm, acting as a rendezvous point for national and international furniture professionals, bringing together manufacturers and distributors from the worlds of furniture and interior design.

Maison&Objet (22nd-26th January 2016), a major French trade fair for interior design, is held biannually. Located in Paris, it offers a unique opportunity to gain an overview of the trends in decoration, furniture and home furnishings from more than 3100 brands.

Finally, Le Salon du Mobilier (7-9th February 2016), held in Nantes, features around 120 exhibitors from the world of furniture and bedding across 20,000 sqm, and targets designers and manufacturers, attracting over 4000 visitors.

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